Thursday, March 4, 2010

More Voices Found: Matilda Betham-Edwards

English writer Matilda Barbara Betham-Edwards was born in Suffolk on this day in 1836. She wrote her first novel at 21, and went on to write several more volumes of prose and poetry. Following the death of her father, Edward Edwards, in 1864 she moved to London, where she became part of the established literary world, and befriended writers such as George Eliot and Henry James.

Betham-Edwards used the hyphenated name to retain her mother's maiden name, Betham, and perhaps to retain her connection to her aunt and godmother,
Matilda Betham, who was also a writer (and friend of Anna Laetitia Barbauld). Later in life, the younger Matilda wrote about her aunt in her book Six Life Studies of Famous Women (1880), which also included chapters on the astronomer Caroline Herschel, and African explorer Alexandrine Tinne, among others.

She also traveled extensively and wrote about her travels to various places, especially France, which she considered a second home due to her
Huguenot background. The French government awarded her the title of Officier de l’Instruction Publique de France in recognition of her efforts to establish understanding of France and its people among the British.

Betham-Edwards also wrote several books for children, both prose and poetry. The following poem, which has appeared in several hymnals, was first published in the magazine Good Words in 1873.

God, make my life a little light
Within the world to glow;
A little flame that burneth bright,
Wherever I may go.

God. make my life a little flower
That giveth joy to all,
Content to bloom in native bower,
Although the place be small.

God. make my life a little song
That comforteth the sad,
That helpeth others to be strong,
And makes the singer glad.

God. make my life a little staff
Whereon the weary rest,
That so what health and strength I have
May serve my neighbors best.

God. make my life a little hymn
Of tenderness and praise,
Of faith, that never waxeth dim,
In all thy wondrous ways.

Matilda B, Betham-Edwards, 1873; alt.
Vincent Novello, 1868

Matilda Betham-Edwards died of a stroke in 1919. In her later years she returned to Suffolk, living for some years in the town of Hastings on the south shore of England, where the plaque below marks one of her homes. The first biographical sketch written after her death, by friend and novelist Sarah Grand, was published with a posthumous work, Mid-Victorian Memories. A more extensive biography by Joan Rees appeared in 2006.

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